Former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin on Tuesday announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Barbara Boxer, pitching herself as a moderate Republican with working-class roots whose views reflect California values better than Boxer's.
Hoping to ride the voter backlash that led to the recall of Democratic former Gov. Gray Davis, Marin portrayed herself as a political outsider and emphasized her immigrant background -- two themes that helped catapult Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger into office.
Speaking in her hometown of Huntington Park, a largely Latino city in southeastern Los Angeles County, Marin sprinkled in Spanish words as supporters waved signs saying "Adios Boxer." Her half-hour speech included references to Ronald Reagan and popular Republican themes, such as lower taxes and stronger national security.
Marin characterized Boxer as an obstructionist whose votes are based on "politics, not performance."
"We deserve a senator who represents the mainstream, not the extreme," Marin told about 150 supporters in a grassy courtyard outside City Hall, where she once served as mayor. "We deserve a senator willing to confront the challenges of the 21st century, not fighting the battles of the 1960s and 1970s."
The strong rhetoric on the first day of Marin's campaign drew criticism from Boxer's camp. Roy Behr, a spokesman for Boxer, said Marin's campaign is based on the same "tired, old charges that right-wing Republicans have been making unsuccessfully against Sen. Boxer for 12 years."
"In every election, California voters reaffirm their belief that Sen. Boxer has done a good job and that she represents their views," Behr said.
Behr said Marin's negative campaigning echoes her political approach in Huntington Park, where in 2000 she was censured by some council colleagues for allegedly being disruptive and rude to members and citizens during a public meeting.
Marin, in a telephone interview, said the censure was groundless retaliation by political opponents. She said the censure was repealed in a later City Council action. "It's a non-issue," Marin said.
Marin, a 45-year-old former bank marketing consultant, joins the Republican primary race that includes Silicon Valley businesswoman Toni Casey and Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark). Another possible candidate, former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, has yet to commit to the race. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Marin and the other candidates are trying to tap into the same voter discontent that ousted Davis in October and replaced him with Schwarzenegger.
Yet, although Boxer's approval ratings are middling -- in a late-September Field poll, 45% of voters said they would be inclined to vote for her -- she does not arouse the same level of negative voter reaction that Davis did, analysts said. Moreover, she has beaten back two earlier efforts to argue that she is a darling of the far left.
"It's very hard to tell if Schwarzenegger's victory has any coattails or has really energized the [Republican] party," said Jennifer Duffy, a political analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, a Washington, D.C.-based newsletter.
Boxer, a tireless campaigner, is a formidable fund-raiser, and had raised more than $7.35 million by the end of September.
Even with the absence of a big-name Republican candidate, analysts said, Marin faces many hurdles. She has a short political resume, with her only experience in elected office her seven years on the Huntington Park City Council. Marin's fund-raising abilities are unproven, they said, and she has never run for a statewide seat.
She has assembled a seasoned staff of advisors, including Ken Khachigian, who was an aide to Richard Nixon and Reagan, and Northern California strategist Kevin Spillane.
Improving Marin's limited name recognition will be a key challenge, analysts said. Though Marin was U.S. treasurer, the post is ceremonial. The fact that her signature appears on Californians' currency probably won't help much, they said.
"Marin has a strong profile. Her biggest problem is that nobody knows who she is," Duffy said.
By announcing her candidacy in Huntington Park, Marin was drawing attention to her working-class roots.
Marin immigrated to the United States from Mexico as a teenager; her father was a factory worker, her mother a seamstress.
After getting a college degree, Marin gave birth to a child with Down syndrome, an experience that led her into politics as a child advocate.
She served seven years on the Huntington Park City Council -- one of them as mayor -- before being named by President Bush in 2001 as U.S. treasurer. She left the post in June.
Though Marin hopes to draw Latino voters from the Democratic incumbent, some Latinos still view her suspiciously because she served in the administration of former Gov. Pete Wilson. Wilson championed Proposition 187, which, although later dismantled by the courts, would have denied state benefits to undocumented immigrants. Marin said she didn't support the measure.
On a more recent issue -- one that dominated the October recall race -- Marin would not say whether she supported the issuance of driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. She said that she, like Schwarzenegger, supports the repeal of the bill that would have allowed such licenses.
Proponents are seeking to craft a compromise measure that would satisfy Schwarzenegger. Marin said she would need to see any revisions before deciding her position. Ultimately, she said, maintaining national security is her primary concern.